Tens of thousands of protesters turned out on the National Mall Sunday to encourage President Obama to make good on his commitment to act on climate change.
Pictured: Demonstrators carry a replica of a pipeline during a march against the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington, February 17, 2013. (Reuters / Richard Clement)
In his Inaugural address from outside the U.S. Capitol, the president said: "We will respond to the threat of climate change knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations."
Just a few weeks later, next to the Washington Monument, Paul Birkeland was one of a couple dozen people holding a long white tube above their heads.
"It's a backbone. It's a spine. The idea is to ask the president to have some spine and stand up to oil companies. And reject the Keystone Pipeline," Birkeland says.
The activists are focusing on the Keystone XL pipeline because it would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. To make this oil, companies use complex extraction and processing techniques that use a lot of energy. So it has a larger greenhouse gas footprint than conventional crude.
Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island told the crowd that Congress is sleepwalking through the crisis on climate change. But he said protesters have an important ally.
"There's a man over there in the White House, he has found his voice on climate change. Are we going to have his back," Whitehouse asked.
Other speakers sounded less sure of the president's intentions.
Van Jones, a former adviser to President Obama, says that it would be disastrous if the project gets a green light.
"It would be like lighting a fuse on a carbon bomb -- that's what it would be like Mr. President," Jones says.
The Obama administration already let the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline go ahead. The State Department is expected to decide soon on the part that would cross the border from Canada and stretch to Oklahoma.
SOURCE: ELIZABETH SHOGREN